Head cheese is one of those foods that sounds gross but tastes great. Contrary to its name, it is not a cheese, but a sausage or terrine made by boiling a pig or calf head with spices and other ingredients. It is cooked until tender and set in gelatin. It is popular in Europe and eaten cold or in a sandwich.
But why buy head cheese when you can make your own at home? It’s surprisingly easy, delicious, and you know exactly what’s in it. Plus, you can impress your guests with your homemade charcuterie skills.
There are two ways to make head cheese at home: using a ham maker or without any special equipment. A ham maker is a device that has a spring loaded lid that squishes the meat down and gives it a uniform shape. You can buy one online or at specialty stores. If you don’t have a ham maker, you can use a loaf pan or a bowl instead.
The main ingredients for head cheese are cubed pork and ground pork. You can use any cut of pork you like, but leaner cuts work better. You also need salt, cure, garlic, pepper, herbs de Provence, white wine, red bell pepper, cornichons, vinegar, and powdered gelatin.
The cure is what keeps the meat pink and gives it a ham-like flavor. You can buy cure online or at specialty stores. It usually contains salt, sugar, sodium nitrite, and sodium erythorbate. You need to dissolve the cure and salt in water before adding it to the meat.
The garlic adds a nice kick to the head cheese. You need to puree it with water in a blender or food processor. This way, the garlic flavor spreads evenly throughout the meat.
The gelatin is what holds the meat together and gives it that characteristic jelly-like texture. You need to dissolve it in water before adding it to the meat.
To make head cheese using a ham maker, you need to mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl. Then you transfer the mixture to the ham maker and press it down with the lid. You refrigerate it overnight until it sets.
To make head cheese without a ham maker, you need to line a loaf pan or a bowl with plastic wrap. Then you spoon the mixture into the pan or bowl and press it down firmly. You cover it with more plastic wrap and refrigerate it overnight until it sets.
To serve head cheese, you need to unmold it from the ham maker or the pan or bowl. Then you slice it thinly and enjoy it with bread, mustard, pickles, and cheese. You can also serve it with sour beer like Rodenbach Red for a perfect pairing.
As Sam Barbieri, chef and owner of Waterfront Ale House and Fuhgeddaboutit BBQ team says: “When he competes, Sam always makes head cheese—which despite its name is not a dairy product but one of France’s finest charcuterie traditions, made from the goodness that results when you poach the whole head of a pig in white wine.”
So don’t be afraid of head cheese. It’s not as hard or as disgusting as you may think. It’s actually one of the best ways to use every part of the pig and make something delicious out of it.